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New V3 center serves health and wellness in North Minneapolis

A four lane swimming pool with lots of windows and natural light. One person is swimming, and two other people are resting at the ends of their lanes.
V3 swimming pool

This week marked the opening of V3, a new wellness center in North Minneapolis dedicated to improving health outcomes in a community faced with lingering disparities.

The building offers access to a state of the art swimming pool, gym and youth programming spaces managed in partnership with community organizations. Founder Erika Binger says this is just the first phase of her vision for the community sports center, which she hopes will foster a healthier future for the residents of the predominantly Black neighborhood. 

“I just knew it was really important to create a space in North Minneapolis, so our kids wouldn't have to go out to different suburbs to receive some of the same amenities that you find in other suburbs,” says Binger. “I wanted them to be able to have the same access and opportunities, because I've seen the disparities.” 

A picture of a workout studio. On the wall are images of women of color working out, along with the words "Stronger Together."
V3's yoga and dance studio

As an athlete and former athletic director at the the Jack Cornelius Boys & Girls Club, Binger says V3 was inspired by the positive impact she witnessed sports have in marginalized communities. After earning her USA Triathlon Coaching certification, Binger says she felt the new multisport space was the next step to expanding her reach to underrepresented Minneapolis youth. V3 stands for “victories in threes,” referring to its triathlon roots. Swimming classes are the main attraction to increase water safety for families of color.

“It's about creating that access and that opportunity,” says Binger. “Water is so full of joy once you're able to establish a healthy relationship with it. And there is a lot of trauma and historical segregation – acid getting thrown on black people in pools and coming over on slave ships and jumping off into the water, like trauma. And so we worked with Dr. Ayanna Rahku and our team to develop culturally responsive and informed curriculum.”

Headshot of a Black woman with close cropped hair, wearing a sweater and seahorse earrings.
Dr. Ayanna Rahku

Dr. Ayanna Rahku is the lead V3 swimming coach. She swam competitively from age 6 to 12, transitioned to life guarding, ultimately deciding she preferred to share her love of swimming than compete professionally. She says it is her mission to help people of African repair their relationship to water, which stems in large part from the impact of racial segregation in pools that occurred during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Despite the U.S. experiencing a pool-build spree in the 1920s and 1930s, due to segregation, access was prioritized for whites-only. For Black Americans, this lack of access affected water safety for generations.  Currently in the U.S., 64 percent of Black children have no or low swimming ability. But the USA Swimming Foundation also records that 65 percent of these children would like to swim more than they do. 

“One of the barriers is fear. And sometimes that fear is really deep seated, like it's generational… A traumatic experience might have happened. And so a lot of times we're dealing with that,” says Rahku. “But sometimes it's just, ‘I don't know what to do in water.’ And so, because of my background… My degree is in Kinesiology, so I really come from a space of how do we move our body – the physics – the kinetics of moving our body through water. And I think that really helps people understand what to do.”

Funding for Phase One of two was fulfilled through a combination of private philanthropy, grants, individual donations and low- to no-interest public loan programs. Binger says Phase Two of the building will cost nearly $86-90 million dollars to complete. She says V3 has raised nearly $22 million raised for Phase Two through similar funding, but needs an additional $38 million just to begin the 18-24 month expansion. V3 at full completion will feature three pools, an indoor track, multipurpose courts, and education, community, and event spaces.  It will also offer a cafe, business incubator, and retail spaces.

Membership rates vary, and day passes are $7. Membership specialist Kennedi Dudley says the benefit of V3 goes beyond swimming. As a born-and-raised Northsider, she says the greatest benefit is how it's shifting the narrative about North Minneapolis.

“I think it's giving us a better vision of ourselves and of our community as a whole. Instead of thinking that we're just not worth caring for or about,”  says Dudley.

Two young Black women sit in chairs, leaning against one another. A large aqua colored sign that says "V3" is on the wall in the background.
V3 Membership Specialist Kennedi Dudley and Lifeguard Seriya Taylor.

Lifeguard Seriya Taylor says positive representation is important. Especially for young men, as males commit violent crimes close to four times more often than their female counterparts. And inner-city youth are more likely to be faced with crime in their home environment.

“Young Black males do not need to be on the streets, especially on the Northside. Because at the end of the day, I have brothers... I don't want them out on the street,” says Taylor. “They haven't had a pool or a gym, or anything like that in over here in a while.”

Executive Director Malik Rucker says this is exactly why he is happy to be a Black male in leadership at V3. He says being able to see alternative options is what is needed – not only on the Northside – but in all underserved communities. 

“This space to me is community building,” says Rucker. “This space is a place where we'll be able to be together as a family and to be able to gather and be in a space where we're kind of all on the same path to living healthier lifestyles.”

V3 is currently open Monday through Friday, 6am to 8pm, Saturdays, 7am to 8pm, and Sundays, 10am to 7pm. Programming and detailed membership information is available on the V3 website.

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